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MY WORD: Money versus minds – what matters most

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By Duanne B. Puckett

As a student at Northside, at Southside and at Shelbyville High School, I never thought about the funding behind the quality teachers I had, the nice desks and school environment, the playground equipment, the athletic facilities, and especially the textbooks.

I fondly remember my textbooks – seeing what upperclassman had carried the book before it came to my hands and covering it with wallpaper sheets or plastic wrap from JJ Newberry 5 & 10.

Students cannot have that memory today. Money from the state for textbooks no longer exists. Local tax dollars helped buy updated math books, which typically remain at school for classroom use.

Money did not matter to me as a student – and it shouldn’t matter to students today.

However, it could because of Shelby County Public Schools being among the growth districts in the state – meaning more students, which equals to the need for more money, which causes concern since less money is being provided by the state.

Consider the fact there were 18,999 people living in Shelby County in 1970, compared to a 75-percent hike to 33,337 people in 2000 when school enrollment was 4,098, compared to today’s enrollment of 6,609.

Of that number, 47 percent qualify for free/reduced lunch prices, 604 are identified as English Language Learners and 32 are classified as homeless.

Our minds must still remain focused on academic achievement, though.

I see it each week when I visit classrooms along with Superintendent James Neihof. Kindergarten children are reading. Fifth-graders are working hard, with middle school seen as an upcoming opportunity.

Middle-schoolers are tackling tough subjects in preparation for high school. Freshmen through seniors have the end in mind: to be ready for college and career.

They have each proved their minds are in the right direction since Painted Stone and Simpsonville elementary schools both have surpassed the original academic index goal of 100.

Eighteen seventh-graders were identified for state recognition and one for national recognition by the Duke University Talent Search. Shelby County High School ranked 11th and Collins High School ranked 16th in the state’s benchmarks for college/career readiness skills.

We do not want the lack of appropriate state funding to diminish those examples of success stories.

However, the superintendent and the school board have to concentrate on being sound fiscal managers and the diminishing state dollar is beginning to consume their minds.

The district has reviewed the draft budget for 2012-2013 at $59 million, with $3,903 allocated as per-pupil expenditure from the state formula for school support based on average daily attendance numbers.

But I fear a repeat of last year, when, 8 months after the 2011-2012 state allocation (known as SEEK – Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) had been announced and the district’s budget has been approved and personnel hired, the state made significant reductions – to the tune of $600,000 for Shelby County!

How can the school board not keep their minds on that number? They work hard to approve a balanced budget.

In 1994, local revenue amounted to 31 percent of the local budget around 1994, and the state provided about 68 percent of the revenue. Now that has slipped to about 52 percent, and the local share has grown to 47 percent.

Even still, Shelby County has managed about $500,000 in cost savings and an additional reduction of more than $300,000 is proposed for the coming year.

What does that say to the approximate 550 kindergarten students who are completing their first full years of full-day learning?

What message does that send to staff that is challenged with higher and higher expectations for student performance?

What does that mean for this community in terms of the quality school system it has come to appreciate?

 

I am just glad we continue to Think BIG, work with students on higher goals, strive to provide training for teachers and keep our minds where it matters – on the future of this community, our students.

As a child, it didn’t matter. As an adult, it does, and I just hope my elected officials in Frankfort realize they carry the majority of the burden to see that the future remains solid and bright for today’s students who will be tomorrow’s leaders – just as my teachers helped me realize about my life all those many years ago.

 

Duanne B. Puckett is the public relations coordinator for Shelby County Public Schools.